With the recent round of violence in Gaza entering its third week, it is time to look over the horizon and ask what happens next: Another short pause before the next eruption, or some kind of a longer, more peaceful modus vivendi between the Israelis and their Palestinian neighbors in Gaza?
Up until a few days ago I still entertained the hope that Israel would not have to send ground troops into Gaza. Beside the fact that entering the Gaza quagmire has always been a hazardous endeavor, this time I had a more personal reason: My nephew Eyal, a captain in the IDF Corps of Engineers, would be combing the lethal tunnels running from beneath Gaza into Israel. Therefore, I was pleased when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted both the Egyptian and the U.N. proposals for ceasefire.
However, once the Hamas rejected the Egyptian offer and violated the U.N. one, and continued to target innocent civilians in Israel with its rockets and deadly tunnels, it left Israel with no other choice than to enter Gaza and in an act of self-defense remove that threat. Eyal is there, and I pray for him.
You might find it odd, but I pray for the people of Gaza, as well. There are 1.8 million people there, almost half of them under 15. What kind of future can they have, when their Hamas leaders drag them every several years into a clash with Israel, which leaves them in worse off than before? I’m not being only altruistic here: A raging, desperate generation of young Gazans spells trouble for Israel.
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The voices in Israel calling for the continuation of the ground operation until Hamas is destroyed are unrealistic. Hamas is an authentic Palestinian movement and organization, which was freely elected in 2006 by the people of Gaza, who believed in the religious and social doctrine of the organization, or were sick and tired of Fatah corruption, or both. Only naïve Westerners would expect that following the present debacle, the people of Gaza will rise against Hamas. Yes, there will be some protests, and people in Gaza will raise questions about the wisdom of provoking Israeli wrath, but generally, Hamas willstrengthen its image as the only Palestinian or Arab force daring to challenge Israel.
Without internal democratic pressure on Hamas to change its ways and stop harassing Israel, the only option that remains is pressure from outside. Israel’s operation will temporarily curb the capability of Hamas to attack Israel again as effectively as before. Egypt, weary of Hamas assistance to Islamic terrorists in Sinai, will discreetly work with Israel in further weakening Hamas. Funds flowing to Hamas courtesy of the Arab Bank might stop, with the bank being brought to court in New York in August for allegedly supporting terrorist causes in Gaza. Will this force Hamas to adopt a more pragmatic approach towards Israel?
Hamas is considered an off-spring of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, whose leader, Sayyid Qutb, divided the world into the Party of Allah (true Muslims) and the Party of Satan (all the rest). When Hamas was founded in 1988, its charter (a virulently anti-Semitic document) opened with a quote from Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam obliterates it, just as it obliterated others before it.”
One can dismiss this as no more than obsolete rhetoric. After all, we Jews, on Passover eve, cite the biblical phrase “Pour out Your wrath on the Gentile nations who do not acknowledge You, and upon the kingdoms that do not call on Your name.” And in the U.K., in the city of York, it is legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls, but only if he is carrying a bow and arrow (I’m not making it up; check it out). Nobody takes these things seriously.
Except that the Hamas does. On election day in Gaza (Jan. 25, 2006), one Hamas leader, Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, declared that the organization “will not change a single word in its charter.” However, the mere participation of Hamas in the 2006 elections was a move toward pragmatism, away from its dogmatic stand in 1996, when it had boycotted the elections because they were associated with the Oslo Accords.
Furthermore, Prof. Khaled Hroub, a world authority on Hamas, writing in the Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Summer 2006), observed the differences between the Hamas charter, which is purely ideological, and its 2006 election platform, which stressed its desire for civilian and social reforms.
In statements of Hamas leaders during the campaign, Prof. Hroub also found an implicit acceptance of the two-state solution. And to come full circle, then Hamas’ recent reconciliation with the Ramallah-based Fatah — a “collaborator” with Israel! — and its acceptance of the authority of a Fatah-led government are a far cry from its dogmatic charter.
Hamas’ recent attack on Israel seems illogical and self-defeating, except that it had a motive: To put pressure — via Israel — on the Egyptians, the regular ceasefire brokers, so that they open the Rafah gates and allow Gazans to move freely to Egypt and from there to the outside world. The Egyptians agree, but on the condition that Fatah, the people of Mahmoud Abbas, man the checkpoints. That might put Israel on the horns of a dilemma, because up until now it objected to reconciliation and cooperation between Fatah and Hamas.
If I were the Israeli prime minister, I would move away from fixed positions, and embrace the opportunities that the new situation offers: A militarily beaten Hamas, brought under the mainstream Palestinian Authority, with a nice economic package hanging in the air. For as Prof. Hroub wrote (Carnegie Endowment, Jan., 2007): “In the end, a moderate, co-opted Hamas inside Palestinian institutions is far better than a radicalized and militarized Hamas on the outside”.